Monday, February 25, 2008

Shnayer Leiman - Some Notes on the Pinner Affair

Some Notes on the Pinner Affair


Shnayer Leiman

Kudos to Dan Rabinowitz for his informative account of the Pinner affair and, more importantly, for reproducing the original texts of Pinner’s 1834 Hebrew prospectus and the Hatam Sofer’s 1835 retraction. The comments that follow are intended to add to Dan’s discussion.

1. “In his retraction the Hatam Sofer says the text [of his approbation to the Pinner translation] was published in a Hamburg newspaper.”

It appears more likely that the Hatam Sofer’s words should be rendered: “I have already made public my grievous sin and error – that I wrote a letter of approbation on behalf of Dr. Pinner’s German translation of the Talmud – and it [Hebrew: iggerati] was published in Hamburg. In it, I confessed, and was not embarrassed to admit, that due to my sins, my eyes were besmeared and blinded…” What was published in Hamburg, then, was the Hatam Sofer’s first public retraction of the letter of approbation, not the letter of approbation itself. Moreover, no mention is made of a Hamburg newspaper. (In 1835, no German-Jewish or Hebrew newspapers were published in Hamburg.) It was published as a broadside, the text of which the Hatam Sofer sent from Pressburg to Hamburg for publication. In was intercepted by the Chief Rabbi, R. Akiva Wertheimer (d. 1838), who refused to publish the text precisely as the Hatam Sofer had written it. (This was in 1834, when the Hatam Sofer was posek ha-dor and gadol ha-dor, and about 72 years old – and we think we have problems!) The Hatam Sofer had to revise the text of the retraction, after which it was published in Hamburg some time between December 23, 1834 (when Rabbi Wertheimer addressed his objections to the Hatam Sofer) and January 22, 1835 (when the second retraction was published by the Hatam Sofer himself in Pressburg). See R. Shlomo Sofer, איגרות סופרים (Vienna, 1929), part 2, letter 66, pp. 70-71. Indeed, one suspects that the need for a second retraction by the Hatam Sofer was occasioned by this act of censorship on the part of the Hamburg authorities. No copies of the Hamburg broadside seem to have been preserved in any of the public collections of Judaica.

2. “The full text of the retraction appears in three places.”

It also appears in a fourth place: Y. Stern, ed., לקוטי תשובות חתם סופר (London, 1965), letter section, p. 90-91. This edition of the text is particularly important because it was obviously copied from the original broadside. Unlike the other editions of the text, the London edition contains two different fonts, Rashi script and enlarged square Hebrew characters – exactly like the original broadside. In a blatant misstatement of fact, the editor of the London edition, in a footnote, indicates that he copied the text from Greenwald’s אוצר נחמד. If so, he could not have known about the two different fonts and where to use them! In any event, Greenwald’s text lacks words that appear in the London edition! Most important, Greenwald’s text gives as the date the broadside was written: Thursday, 22 Tammuz , 5595 (= 1835). (In 1835, however, 22 Tammuz fell on Sunday, July 19.) The London edition gives as the date the broadside was written: Thursday, 21 Tevet, 5595 (= January 22, 1835). This is precisely the date that appears on the original broadside, as posted by Dan! One suspects that the discrepancy between the editor’s claim and the printed page originated in a parting of the ways between the editor and the great bibliophile and scholar, Abraham Ha-Levi Schischa (see the introductory page to the volume). Schischa’s deft hand is evident throughout the volume, and no doubt he had access to the original broadside. Perhaps when the editor and Schischa parted ways, the editor – who no longer had access to the original broadside – claimed that he copied the text from Greenwald, when in fact Schisha had prepared the text based on the original broadside. There remain some very slight discrepancies between the London edition and the original broadside, probably due to the editor of the London edition. The editor’s misstatement of fact misled, among others, R. Eliezer Waldenberg, שו"ת ציץ אליעזר 15:3, p. 8.

3. “As one can see, the retraction is dated 21 Tevet, 1834.”

As indicated above, 21 Tevet in the year 5595 fell in 1835. In the light of the documents posted by Dan, we can reconstruct the chronological sequence of events. Sometime in mid- 1834, the Hatam Sofer wrote a letter of approbation on behalf of Pinner’s translation of the Talmud into German. (One should mention for the record that it was much more than a mere translation. Pinner vocalized the Mishnah and punctuated [commas and question marks] the entire text of the Talmud, Rashi, Tosafos, and Rosh to Bavli Berakhoth! He also included occasional חידושים from his רבי מובהק, Rabbi Jacob of Lissa [d. 1832], at whose feet he sat for seven consecutive years.) On August 15, 1834, Pinner published his prospectus in Hebrew, announcing to the world at large that he had received letters of approbation from “all the גדולי ישראל in France, Italy, and German” and from none other than the Hatam Sofer himself! (The English version lists the same date, but makes no mention of the Hatam Sofer.) It was precisely the publication of the prospectus that forced the Hatam Sofer to go public. Now all of the Hatam Sofer’s colleagues knew what he had done, and the criticism that followed was merciless. See the letter of the Dutch communal leader and philanthropist, R. Zvi Hirsch Lehren (d. 1853), to the Hatam Sofer, dated January 11, 1835 (in איגרת סופרים, part 2, letter 69, pp. 73-78). It would no longer suffice to simply send a note to Pinner and ask that he return the letter of approbation. Since it was public knowledge that the Hatam Sofer had lent his name to Pinner’s translation, nothing less than a public retraction would set the record straight. By December 1834, the Hatam Sofer had already prepared an official retraction for publication (by disciples of his in Hamburg who had easy access to the local Jewish publishing houses) in Hamburg. After some delay due to censorship, the retraction was published either in late December 1834 or early January 1835. A second, fuller retraction was published in Pressburg on January 22, 1835. For Pressburg as the place of publication of the second retraction, see N. Ben Menachem, “הדפוס העברי בפרעסבורג,” Kiryat Sefer 33(1958), p. 529.

4. The letter of retraction refers to Rabbi Nathan Adler. This, of course refers to Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler (1803-1890) of Hanover, and later Chief Rabbi of Britain, a much younger contemporary of the Hatam Sofer. He is not to be confused with the Hatam Sofer’s teacher, Rabbi Nathan Adler of Frankfurt (1741-1800), who could not have been consulted by Pinner. Cf. Torah U-Madda Journal 5(1994), p. 131; (see now the corrected version "The Talmud in Translation" in Printing The Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein, Yeshiva University Museum, 2006, p. 133).

5. Although Pinner insisted on going ahead with the project, despite the Hatam Sofer’s protests, credit should be given where credit is due. Pinner omitted mention of the Hatam Sofer’s letter of approbation in the one volume that he published in 1842.

6. Regarding why no further volumes of Pinner’s translation were published, the simplest answer is: lack of funds and lack of determination to see a project through from beginning to end. Pinner, a moderate Maskil, spent a lifetime dreaming about all sorts of literary projects, none of which came to fruition. These included attempts at listing all Hebrew books and manuscripts, and all tombstone inscriptions of famous rabbis and scholars (including Moses Mendelssohn, Isaac Satanov, Hartwig Wessely, and Israel Jacobson). See his כתבי יד (Berlin, 1861), a partial publication of a book with no real beginning and no real end that captures the very essence of Pinner’s personality. In that volume, pp. 62-64, Pinner published a lengthy fund-raising letter he wrote in 1847 in order to raise funds to publish his diary, a kind of travelogue that would introduce readers to the wonders of the world. It was yet another of his failed projects. In the case of Pinner’s translation of the Talmud, Czar Nicholas withdrew his support and there was no one to pick up the slack. Note too the powerful language at the end of the Hatam’s Sofer’s retraction. Should Pinner insist on publishing the volumes, no Jewish publishing house may agree to publish the volumes, and no Jew may buy or read them. This surely didn’t help either publication or sales. For the powerful impact of the Hatam Sofer’s letters of approbation on the Jewish community at large, see my “Masorah and Halakhah: A Study in Conflict,” in M. Cogan, B. Eichler, and J. Tigay, eds., Tehillah Le-Moshe (Moshe Greenberg Festschrift), Winona Lake, 1997, pp. 305-306.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bibliography, Why It's Important

In Professor Daniel Sperber's latest book, Netivot Pesikah (Jerusalem, Reuven Mass, 2008), one of the areas he discusses the importance of having an awareness of is bibliography. As Eliezer Brodt noted in his review at the Seforim blog, Sperber provides examples where people have gone wrong due to their lack of bibliographical knowledge. Of course, long before Sperber, the importance of Jewish bibliography was already noted by R. Shabbatai Bass, most well-known for his super-commentary on Rashi, Siftei Hakahmim, but also the author of the earliest Jewish bibliography, Siftei Yeshanim.[1] In the introduction to Siftei Yeshanim, Bass discusses generally why bibliography is important. Then, in Ben-Jacob's bibliography of Hebrew books, Otzar haSeforim, R. Shlomo haKohen of Vilna in his approbation lists numerous examples where people erred due to lack of bibliographical knowledge.

A particularly illustrative example was the republication of the work on the laws of Shabbat, Madanei Asher. A kollel had a group of people working on to study the book and then republish it. Although they studied the book in depth they failed to look up the bibliographical information on the book. Had they done so, they would have discovered that the book is plagiarised from another book, Shulhan Shitim by R. Shlomo Chelm, the author of the Merkevet HaMishnah. Instead, they invested considerable time and effort in ensuring that the wider public has access to a plagiarized work.[2]

Another such example of an egregious error due to lack of bibliographical information can be found in the Machon Yerushalayim edition of the Shulhan Arukh. Included in this edition is the commentary of R. Menachem Mendel Auerbach, Ateret Zekeinim. In Orah Hayyim, no. 54, R. Auerbach discusses whether the word "Hai" - het, yud - should be punctuated with a patach or a tzeri.[3].R. Auerbach states "one should have a tzeri under the letter het . . . and this in accord with what R. Shabbatai writes in his siddur, however, the Maharal of Prague says to use a patach." Now, when R. Auerbach references R. Shabbatai and his siddur, the Machon Yerushalayim edition includes an explanatory note "Siddur haArizal in the Barukh She'amar prayer." Thus, according to Machon Yerushalayim, R. Auerbach is quoting the Siddur haArizal compiled by R. Shabbatai Rashkover. That, in and of itself, is a bit odd as this Siddur is more interested - as the title implies - in the Ari and his kabbalistic ideas, rather than on grammar. Therefore, to use it in a discussion of grammar, which the quote in question is dealing with, is a bit odd! Setting that aside, there is a more fundamental mistake here, as the Siddur compiled by R. Rashkover was only published for the first time in Koretz in 1795. R. Auerbach lived from 1620-1689. Thus, he was dead for over 100 years prior to the publication of the Siddur of R. Rashkover. Moreover, the Ateres Zekeinim was first published in 1702 in Amsterdam, also long before the Siddur in question was ever published. The Rashkover's Siddur was only first written in 1755 and not published until 1797.[4] What is particularly striking about this example is that if one actually examines Rashkover's siddur, he doesn't even have a tzeri in the word in question!

Instead, the siddur in question from "R. Shabbatai" is that of R. Shabbatai Sofer, the well-known grammarian. As this R. Shabbatai is a grammarian, and his siddur was written specifically to correct and highlight the proper grammatical readings, - see the lengthy introduction to this siddur, where R. Shabbatai bemoans the carelessness of people towards proper grammar - it makes perfect sense to quote this siddur from this "R. Shabbatai." This is not the only place R. Auerbach quotes R. Shabbatai, one quote in particular is important as it dispels who the "R. Shabbatai" Auerbach is referring to. In Orah Hayyim, no. 122, Auerbach gives R. Shabbatai's full name in another discussion about proper grammar. Auerbach refers to "I also saw this in the Siddur of R. Shabbatai of Przemysl." R. Shabbati of Przemysl is otherwise known as R. Shabbatai Sofer (1565-1635)[5] and that is who is referred to earlier as well.

In conclusion, it is worthwhile noting that the text in question - the correct pronunciation of the word het yud - how R. Sofer actually pronounced that is unclear. There are two versions, but for the details of that one should see the edition of R. Sofer's Siddur (Baltimore, 1994), vol. 2, p. 56.

[1] First printed in Amsterdam in 1680 and in an expanded edition in 1806.

[2] This was pointed on by Y. Tosher in Moriah 7:83-84 (1978): 79. This claim of plagiarism was examined by Yonah Burstein, "Shulhan 'Arukh by R. Shlomo Chelm (Review)," Ali Sefer 16 (1990):177-179.

[3] See the work Yashresh Ya'akov where he has a very comprehensive discussion about the this word and its punctuation.

[4] See Pinchas Giller, "Between Poland and Jerusalem: Kabbalistic Prayer in Early Modernity," in Modern Judaism 24:3 (2004): 230, and see Geller's general discussion regarding the importance of Rashkover's edition for the development of Lurianic kabbalah on the siddur.

[5] On R. Sofer see Stefan C. Reif, Shabbethai Sofer and His Prayer-Book (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Hatam Sofer's Retraction of his Approbation to the Pinner Talmud

Of late, translations of the talmud have become a popular topic. [1] In the history of translations, the translation done by Dr. Efraim Pinner, is an important one for multiple reasons. Among other firsts, the Pinner translation was the first German translation of the talmud. Pinner envisioned a complete translation of the entire talmud but only one volume was produced, a translation meskhta Berachot. This edition contains multiple approbations, there is, however, one approbation does not appear in the book. (A good summary of the history can be found here at OnTheMainline, where S. has also posted a prospectus for the Pinner talmud, available here.)

The Hatam Sofer gave an approbation to Pinner's translation (no one to date has located the text of the approbation, in his retraction the Hatam Sofer says the text was published in a Hamburg newspaper but all attempts to locate it have proven futile). According to the Hatam Sofer after learning further details of Pinner's translation, he decided he would revoke his approbation and did so in a separate broadsheet. While this is all well known, what seems to have escaped those who have discussed this event is that there are actually two versions of the retraction and even two dates provided for when the Hatam Sofer wrote his retraction. The full text of the retraction appears in three places, N.N. Rabinovich's Ma'amar al Hadfasas haTalmud, in the additions from Habermann, in R. S. M. Adler's Emek haBacha, vol. 2, and in R. Greenwald's Otzar Nechamad (pp. 82-3, this appears at, but like many of the books available at, this is not a perfect copy and part is missing). None of these, however, published the actual retraction and instead, Adler's and Greenwald's are copies of a copy. Adler had an anonymous "ya'rei v'charad" provided copied it for him from the British Library, and Greenwalds came Amsterdam by Zidmand Zelegmann from a copy that Dov Ritter had. Habermann doesn't say where he got it; however, as the JNUL has an original perhaps he actually saw it and was not relying on a copy of a copy. But, as he doesn't say one can't be certain. As I mentioned there are small differences between the versions. Thus, to fill this void, below is a scan of the actual single sheet retraction. [Additionally, at the end of the post, is the prospectus for the Pinner edition.]

As one can see, the retraction is dated 21 Tevet, 1834. According to Greenwald's version the retraction is dated Tammuz, 1835. Moreover, the text confirms all of Adler's readings and not that of Greenwald. It appears that Greenwald's copyist did a poor job and thus produced a corrupted text.

Now, aside from the retraction there is another document, although discussed has never been republished - that of Pinner's notice that he was going to publish his translation. This document is also connected to the Hatam Sofer, in that Pinner mentions he received the Hatam Sofer's approbation. Subsequently, as we have seen, the Hatam Sofer retracted that approbation, however, at the time Pinner published his notice he still had the Hatam Sofer's approbation.

At this juncture it is worth noting that the Hatam Sofer held Pinner in high regard. According to R. Ya'akov Hirsch HaLevi, a student of the Hatam Sofer, Pinner spent time studying with the Hatam Sofer. Specifically, when Pinner came to obtain the approbation of the Hatam Sofer "Pinner spent a few weeks in Pressburg, and went daily to the Hatam Sofer." [See Zikrohnot u-Mesorot al Ha-Hatam Sofer (Bnei Brak: Machon Moreshet Ashkenaz, 1996), 306.] This picture of Pinner is counter to that of some who take a dim view of Pinner. [See Iggeret Soferim (Jerusalem, 2000), 74 n.2.] Some, have gone the other way. That is, they cannot fathom that the Hatam Sofer ever gave an approbation nor that he then retracted it. The Munkatcher Rebbi, makes this claim to note that the entire book Iggeret Soferim is a forgery as it mentions, inter alia, that the Hatam Sofer retracted. But, as is discussed in detail in the Zikhronot u-Mesorot, this claim is incorrect; specifically as it relates to Pinner story. The Maharam Schick, notes that the Hatam Sofer retracted, and in fact, according to the Mahram, this demonstrates the greatness of the Hatam Sofer that he is able to admit when he erred. (See Zikhronot, pp. 15-6).

Returning to the Pinner talmud. Why was it that no further volumes were published? According to some it was due to the retraction of the Hatam Sofer. That is, since the Hatam Sofer disapproved of the translation thus Pinner was unable to publish any further volumes.[2] This, however, makes little sense in light of the fact the Hatam Sofer had made known his negative views towards Pinner's translation some 7 years prior to Pinner publishing even his first volume. Additionally, it is hard to see how the Hatam Sofer's opinion would effect the target readership of Pinner's translation those who spoke German. While there is no doubt the Hatam Sofer held sway over many Eastern European Jews, those Jews didn't read German and probably were not interested in Pinner's translation to begin with.

Perhaps a more likely scenario is that Pinner shot himself in the foot. Pinner's edition contains a full page dedication to Czar Nicholas. Czar Nicholas instituted some of the harshest anti-Semitic programs, including mandatory 25 conscription into the Russian army. The point of conscription was to forcibly baptize the Jews. Pinner's translation was aimed at cultured and educated Jews, Jews who would be aware of Nicholas's programs. It is no surprise that there may have been significant reticence to purchase books glorifying such a person.

In fact, this would not be the first time a dedication didn't work out that well. The first Rabbinic bible published in 1522, was not a success. Instead, it would be the second Rabbinic bible that became the template for the Mikrot Gedolot Chumash. While both were done by the same publisher and soon after one another. The main difference was the first contained a dedication to the Pope, while the second did not. Perhaps, the same happened here, and Pinner was a victim of poor judgment in securing his approbations, both in the one's that appeared and the ones that did not.

[1] Rabbi Adam Mintz's research on the history of Talmud translations is the most comprehensive work on the subject; see his "Words, Meaning and Spirit: The Talmud in Translation," Torah u-Madda Journal 5 (1994): 115-155, [see here]; later revised and reprinted in the volume, Printing The Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein, published in connection with exhibit on the Talmud at the YU Museum. Additionally, in a recent issue of Ohr Yisrael, no. 50 (Tevet, 5768): 36-78, there was also a discussion regarding translations. It is worth noting that none of the articles mention Mintz's articles. PDFs of these articles -- by Adam Mintz and those from the Ohr Yisrael, no. 50 -- are available in a recent post at the Michtavim blog.
[2] Greenwald goes so far as to incorrectly assert that Pinner acquised to the Hatam Sofer and never published the translation at all.

The Original Prospectus for the Pinner ed. of the Talmud

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Saga of Publishing the Works of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner

The Saga of Publishing the Works of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner:
The Issue of Inclusion of Zionism and Rav Kook
by David Glasner
David Glasner, an economist at the Federal Trade Commission, is a great-grandson of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner.

This is his first contribution to the Seforim blog.
Many readers of the Seforim blog may be interested, perhaps even pleased, to hear about the recent publication of a new volume containing a number of works of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner (1856-1924), chief rabbi (av beit din) of Klausenburg (1877-1923), one of the founding fathers of Mizrahi, author of Dor Revi’i on Hullin, Shevivei Eish on the Torah and on selected sugyot, as well as two volumes of posthumously published responsa (Shu"t Dor Revi’i is available online at, and a new volume, entitled Ohr Bahir, which contains six previously published shorter works (kuntresim) that were published between about 1900 and 1915. In chronological order the six kuntresim are Haqor Davar published in 5661 (1900/01) which addresses the permissibility of conversion in cases of intermarriage; Ohr Bahir published in 5668 (1907/08) on the laws of mikva’ot and a defense of the kashrut of the Klausenburg mikveh against (likely politically inspired) aspersions on its kashrut; Yeshna li-Shehitah, on the laws of shehitah published in 5671 (1911); Halakhah l’Moshe published in 5672 (1911/12) on the laws of shehitah and bedikat ha-sakin; Matzah Shemurah on the requirement of shemirah for matzah and on the kashrut of machine matzah during Passover published in 5675 (1914/15); Hametz Noqsha on the sugya of hametz noqsha in Pesahim published together with Matzah Shemurah. In addition to these six previously published works, the volume also contains a previously unpublished responsum by the Dor Revi’i dating from about 1921 or 1922 as well as three short articles by my late father, Rabbi Juda Glasner, which were previously published in the rabbinical journal ha-Pardes.[1]

In a post at the Seforim blog entitled "From Ma’adanei Eretz to Kitvei Ma’adanei Eretz" (link), Rabbi Chaim Rapoport of London discussed the recent publication of a new volume of writings about shemitah by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach entitled Kitvei Ma’adanei Eretz, which includes substantial portions of Rabbi Auerbach’s classic Ma’adanei Eretz, a book written specifically to address halakhic questions associated with shemitah. Rabbi Rapoport posed the question why Ma’adanei Eretz, a classic work that has been out of print for over 30 years, was not itself republished in its entirety. Rabbi Rapoport posited two reasons for its not having been republished. First, in Ma’adanei Eretz, Rabbi Auerbach discussed at length the heter mechirah, which, while not his preferred option, Rabbi Auerbach did regard as halakhically valid and treated respectfully as a legitimate option. Second, Rabbi Auerbach discussed at length, and with the utmost veneration, the halakhic positions of his mentor, Rabbi A. I. Kook. Rabbi Rapoport speculated that Haredi opinion regards both the heter mechirah and Rabbi Kook as being beyond the pale of acceptability. To allow contemporary readers ready access to Rabbi Auerbach’s opinions could evidently have two dangerous outcomes. Questions might arise in some minds about the justification for casting the heter mechirah and Rabbi Kook into the outer darkness, and, perhaps even more disconcerting, in other minds doubts might arise about Rabbi Auerbach’s position as a (or the) pre-eminent late twentieth century Haredi halakhic authority.

Rabbi Rapoport noted that this Haredi attitude toward Rabbi Kook had apparently caused the latter to be excluded from the index of authorities on the Rambam in the Frankel edition of the Mishneh Torah. In his Spring 2005 review of the Frankel Rambam in Jewish Action [PDF], Rabbi Rapoport commented on the exclusion of Rabbi Kook (along with such other luminaries as Rabbis Y.Y. Reines, I. Herzog, J. B. Soloveitchik and M. M Schneerson) from that index. He also pointed out with a certain hint of surprise that the filter against religious incorrectness that had apparently screened the above-mentioned authorities had not excluded the name of my illustrious ancestor from the index of notables despite my ancestor’s outspoken Zionism and other (from a Haredi perspective) problematical positions.

This somewhat rambling introduction is intended to set the stage for the following little drama in which I participated during the runup to the publication of the new volume of my great-grandfather’s writings. The idea for the volume began to take shape three or four years ago when my nephew decided that he would like to sponsor the publication of a volume of works by one of our many distinguished ancestors to mark the bar-mitzvah of his oldest son (which was celebrated b’sha’ah tovah u-mutzlahat a few weeks ago on Shabbat Shirah). I suggested to him the idea of republishing the five kuntresim of the Dor Revi’i, which had been out of print for nearly a century and are now almost unknown and unavailable. I took upon myself the task of re-typing the original into a Hebrew word-processor and to the best of my ability flagging problematic spellings, misprints, typos, etc., and providing as many references to citations as I could find on my own. We eventually retained a cousin in Israel to finish the editorial process (find remaining references for citations and add explanatory footnotes as needed) and to guide the project through its final stages. After the passing of my father, we decided to dedicate the volume to his memory as well as to the celebration of my great-nephew’s bar-mitzvah, and therefore included three short articles that my father had published. It was also agreed that I would write an introduction in which I would say something about the life and work of my great-grandfather and about my father.

By last August, when the editorial process was nearing completion, I had finished a draft of my introduction. In the introduction, I tried to give a brief account of the Dor Revi’i’s life and an appreciation of his (in my eyes heroic) character. To me it did not seem possible to portray his life or his character adequately without mentioning his dedication to Zionism and his large role in the founding of Mizrahi. I also thought that it was necessary to point out that he was very much alone among his colleagues in the Hungarian rabbinate in supporting Zionism and, as a result, was much abused and vilified. His response, however, was never in kind, only to work even harder to support and defend his positions with ever more powerful and more rigorous arguments. I also made mention of the high regard in which he was held by the gedolim of his time, e.g., by Rabbi Kook, to whom he became very closely attached after leaving Klausenburg in the spring of 1923 for Jerusalem where he spent the last 18 months of his life before his sudden passing during haqafot on the night of Shemini Atzeret in 1924. But I also pointed out that he was similarly esteemed by other gedolei ha-dor who were not known for their ardent Zionistic tendencies such as the Maharsham of Brezan (who wrote haskamot to Ohr Bahir and Matzah Sh’murah which are also included in this volume), R. Meir Simha of Dvinsk, R. Haim Ozer Grodzinski, and the Tchebiner Rav.

The draft of my introduction was shown to various members of my extended family. The Dor Revi’i had ten children, and the political and religious views of the descendants, as one might expect, cover a pretty wide spectrum of opinions. The feedback from the more Haredi sectors of the family was not positive.

The first objection that I received was from someone who considered it inappropriate to mention the Dor Revi’i’s close relationship with Rabbi Kook, inasmuch as it is no longer acceptable in Haredi circles to mention Rabbi Kook’s name. I was, to put it mildly, shocked when I heard this objection. I would not have been surprised by an objection to my mention of the Dor Revi’i’s Zionism, but I was not prepared for an objection to the mere mention of Rabbi Kook’s name. In view of the friendship between my great-grandfather and Rabbi Kook and the fact that Rabbi Kook had defended my great-grandfather against scurrilous attacks that had been made upon him,[2] I decided that I could not, on principle, delete Rabbi Kook’s name. But I also told my niece and nephew that if they wished, I would withdraw my introduction and they could substitute a more acceptable introduction by someone else in its place. Their response was that they did not want to publish the volume without my introduction and that I should continue to work on it.

Then the other shoe dropped. This time the objection came from a source with whom my niece and nephew have a much closer personal relationship than they have with the first complainant who had objected only to my mentioning Rabbi Kook’s name, but had not objected explicitly to my discussion of Zionism. The new complaint was that politics had no place in the introduction to a book (such as this) about halakhah, and that whatever my great-grandfather had meant by Zionism in his day, it was certainly much different then from what it is today. Moreover, it was asked, what purpose could possibly be served by revisiting all these old issues that no one really understands, or even cares about, today? I was taken aback by the criticisms to say the least, because it seemed to me that if my great-grandfather had devoted so much effort and suffered such heartache in working and writing and speaking on behalf of Zionism and had endured so much abuse as a consequence, then surely it would not be right to pretend that his mesirut nefesh for the sake of Zionism was null and void and unworthy of memory or mention. I then suggested a compromise in which I would delete the word “tzionut” and would substitute “shivat tzion” in its place. However, I said that I would not delete mention of his participation in the founding of Mizrahi and the 1904 conference in Pressburg. That proposal was shot down at once. I was told that in Haredi circles the very word “Mizrahi” is considered a form of nivul peh and that the social standing of my relatives in their communities would be at risk if it ever became known that they had an ancestor who had been a founder of such an organization. When I pointed out that it was a well-known fact that the Dor Revi’i was a Zionist, I was told that in their circles it was not well-known and they would do all they could to keep it from becoming well known.[3] At this point, I realized that my introduction would not be printed as it was, and rather than seek to rewrite it (there was not enough time for me to have done a decent job even if I had wanted to), I took out everything that I had written about my great-grandfather, but left intact the short account of my father’s life that I had written. To replace my introduction, my niece and nephew were able to secure at the last minute a contribution from Rabbi Avraham Yafe Schlesinger of Geneva and Jerusalem, who is also a great-grandson of the Dor Revi’i, a prolific author (several volumes of Shu"t Be’er Sarim) with, as far as I can tell, impeccable Haredi credentials, and who recently published a new edition of Shevivei Eish combined in one volume with a previously unpublished collection of drashot by the father of the Dor Revi’i, Rabbi Avraham Glasner (1825/26-1877) which he called Dor Dorshav.[4]

What is the deeper significance of this sad little tale? First, it solves the minor puzzle about which Rabbi Rapoport wondered in his Jewish Action review, namely, what made the Dor Revi’i an acceptable entry for the Frankel index of authorities when other luminaries of a similar ilk were not acceptable. The answer, I now understand, is that there is nothing that makes the Dor Revi’i more acceptable than the others beyond the (from my perspective) unfortunate fact that there are too few people around who know who the Dor Revi’i was and what his political and hashqafic beliefs were to make the appearance of his name objectionable to most contemporary Haredim.[5] It’s not a matter of the intrinsic acceptability of the authority, just a question of what one can get away with. If enough people recognize the name and associate it with taboo opinions, it has to go. If they don’t recognize it, or don’t know enough about it to mind, then gezunter heit. Second, it shows how extraordinarily powerful are the pressures to conform in Haredi society. Individuals and ideas that do not perfectly fit the accepted norms (and thereby suggest the possibility of different norms) of that society are literally taboo. To mention Rabbi Kook in the context of a halakhic discussion or as something other than an object of scorn is in wide sections of that community to cross a red line. For my Haredi relatives, it is truly a scary thought that their ancestor would be grouped together with one such as Rabbi Kook. I really am on very close and friendly terms with many of my Haredi relatives, including some who are and some who aren’t Dor Revi’i einiklakh, and I have great respect and admiration and very deep affection for them. But this episode has forced me to view their society from a new and, I regret to say, disturbing angle. In the course of my little encounter with Haredi sensibilities, I felt a whole range of emotions, but the one that remains after having (largely) gotten over it is compassion for people who actually have to live in fear lest the events of a life such as the one led by their very own ancestor, the Dor Revi'i, become known within the community in which they live.

[1] For further information about my great-grandfather, the Dor Revi’i, see my “Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner, the Dor Revi’i,” Tradition 32.1 (Winter 1998): 40-56, which is available, along with other translations of his various works -- including all the divrei torah on the parshiot and hagim from Shevivei Eish and translations of various writings of his son and successor as chief rabbi of Klausenburg, Rabbi Akiva Glasner -- online at If you would like to purchase a copy of Ohr Bahir ($20 a copy plus $3 shipping and handling for single copies), please contact me by email (, please put “Ohr Bahir” in the subject heading). If you are in Israel and would like to purchase a copy, please contact Rabbi Shaya Herzog 04-697-4802 or 052-764-6975 for further information. If you are a book seller and would like to order copies, please contact me directly.

[2] The attacks were made in a pamphlet (Mishpat Tzedeq) published by the newly formed Sephardic community in Klausenburg, which was the creation of a small group consisting of perhaps one hundred families (out of a total Jewish population in Klausenburg that exceeded 10,000) who decided that they could no longer remain subject to the authority of a Zionist rabbi. The term “Sephardic community” was a sort of legal fiction designed to gain the recognition of the secular authorities that would recognize only one Orthodox community within a given town or district. The only “Sephardic” aspect of the community was that they recited prayers in “nusah s’fard.” Largely made up of Sigheter Hasidim, the group chose as their spiritual leader Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the future Satmarer Rebbe, whose older brother, the Atzei Haim, was then the incumbent Rebbe in Sighet, original seat of the family dynasty. R. Joelish never took up residence in Klausenburg, and after heading the Klausenburg Sephardic community for about five years, he vacated the position in favor of his nephew Rabbi Y. Y. Halberstam, who eventually was to become famous as the Klausenburger Rebbe. While the brilliance and charisma of the latter were already evident during his years in Klausenburg, he led a community that was never more than one or two percent the size of the community headed by my grandfather, and who, in his own right, was one of the leading rabbinical figures in Europe in the interwar period. It was only after Holocaust destroyed organized Jewish life in Hungary, and after he had left Klausenburg, that the adjective “Klausenburger” became routinely attached to Rabbi Halberstam. For the three quarters of a century prior to the Holocaust the title “Klausenburger Rav” was held by a Glasner. That, as such things go, is a fairly straightforward historical fact, and is not meant as explicit or implicit derogation of Rabbi Halberstam. Unlike his uncle, whose hostility to the successor of the Dor Revi’i was unrelenting, Rabbi Halberstam did maintain a civil, even friendly, relationship with my grandfather during his nearly twenty years in Klausenburg. After publication of Mishpat Tzedeq, the Orthodox community of Klausenburg published a pamphlet (Yishuv Mishpat, now available online on the website of the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem) opposing the breakaway community and defending my great-grandfather against the attacks leveled against him. Rabbi Kook contributed an open letter (a hyperlink to the letter is available at to the rabbis who allowed their opinions permitting the breakaway of the Sephardic community from the Orthodox community in Klausenburg to be published in a pamphlet containing slanderous accusations against the Klausenburger Rav whom Rabbi Kook described as “gadol ha-dor b’torah b’hokhmah, bi-z’khut avot, u-v’midot terumiot.”

[3] I was also told by one relative that he had it on good authority that after the Dor Revi’i arrived in Palestine and saw with his own eyes the disasters perpetrated by the Zionists, the Dor Revi’i repented of his Zionism and was subsequently shunned by his former Zionist friends. A rumor to this effect actually seems to have circulated during the lifetime of the Dor Revi’i, and a former resident of Klausenburg, Shlomo Zimroni, who settled in Israel after the Holocaust and wrote a number of works about the religious history of Klausenburg, refers to this rumor in a short article about my great-grandfather in Shana b’Shanah, published by Heichal Shlomo (5640): 434-39. He quoted from a letter that the Dor Revi’i wrote to a former lay antagonist who, having heard the rumor, wrote to invite his return to Klausenburg and to propose reconciliation. The letter quoted by Zimroni (pp. 436-37) makes emphatically clear that the writer had not changed his mind. The suggestion that the Dor Revi’i changed his mind about Zionism and was then shunned by his former friends is further refuted by the following story which, my father told me he had heard from his father, Rabbi Akiva Glasner, when his father sat shiva for his mother (the wife of the Dor Revi’i) in the early 1930s (when my father was probably in his mid-teens). According to my father, my grandfather said that when Rabbi Yosef Hayyim Sonnenfeld, a student of the Ketav Sofer, the Dor Revi’i’s uncle and (briefly) teacher, paid a shiva call at the home of the Dor Revi’i in Jerusalem, he begged forgiveness from the Dor Revi’i’s rebbetzin for not having attended the funeral of her husband. He said that he had not meant any disrespect by not attending and indeed had had every intention to attend the funeral, but had been misled as to the time of the funeral by his aides who did not want him to show public respect to a Zionist. That apology and explanation would obviously not make any sense had the Dor Revi’i renounced his Zionist opinions and had he been shunned by his former Zionist friends. In that case, why would Rabbi Sonnenfeld’s handlers have wanted to prevent a show of public respect by Rabbi Sonnenfeld to the Dor Revi’i? Such inventions of “bsof yamav” have become a characteristic of of Haredi oral traditions (urban legends) and historiography as Rabbi Rapoport noted in footnote 10 of his posting.

[4] Avraham Glasner was a talmid muvhaq of the Ketav Sofer. He married Raizel Ehrenfeld (daughter of Dovid Tzvi and Hindel Ehrenfeld), a niece of the Ketav Sofer and the oldest granddaughter of the Hatam Sofer. In his twenties, he was appointed chief rabbi of Gyonk, Hungary, and after eleven years in that position he became chief rabbi of Klausenburg. He served in that position for 14 years until his premature death at the age of 52. His only son, Moshe Shmuel, though only 21 years old, was appointed to succeed him on erev Hanukah in 1877. Moshe Shmuel was the oldest great-grandchild of the Hatam Sofer, which along with the implicit Zionistic allusion, was the reason that he chose “Dor Revi’i” as the title of his great work.

[5] It’s therefore somewhat comforting to know that the memory of the Dor Revi’i is being kept alive, if not exactly well, among the Satmarers. They have long memories and nurse their grievances with care and feeling. Thus in volume six of the official biography of the Rebbe, Reb Joelish, unpretentiously entitled Moshian shel Yisrael, there is a whole chapter that is largely devoted to my great-grandfather. The title of the chapter is “milhemet ha-shem neged amaleq.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Review of Professor Daniel Sperber's Netivot Pesikah

Review of Professor Daniel Sperber's Netivot Pesikah

by Eliezer Brodt

Professor Daniel Sperber, Modes of Decision – Methods and Approaches for Proper Halakhic Decision Making, Jerusalem, Reuven Mass, 2008, 207 pages; Hebrew.

פר' דניאל שפרבר, נתיבות פסיקה 'כלים וגישה לפוסק ההלכה' ירושלים, תשסח, ראובן מס, 207 עמודים

Last week a new book from Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber arrived in stores, Netivot Pesikah. This is his third book which he authored in less than a year (see here and here for reviews on them). Before I begin I must say at the outset this book follows in the path of his most recent book Darkah Shel Halakha in that he discusses very sensitive topics and says things that many will take issue with. In this post I will not even attempt to deal with all that is discussed in this book as that would require its own book which others much better suited than I could do. What follows is a review of some of the points which he makes in this book including some of my own opinions for whatever they are worth. This is just some preliminary remarks as many topics contain much information and, in time, will be subject to their own posts.

This book is an expansion of essays that he has written in English first printed in the book Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah, and later, reissued in a separate booklet “Legitimacy and Necessity: Scientific Disciplines and the learning of the Talmud.” This volume is an expansion of those essays including many additions and some new chapters never printed before. The first two parts of the book deal with what a Rav specifically needs to know and use modern day tools to reach proper conclusions in halakha. Sperber includes all kinds of samples to prove his points, including many examples from old texts and historical works. As Sperber writes in the introduction of his English edition:

This study seeks to demonstrate that there is a need to use scientific discipline when examining rabbinic texts. These texts include textual clarification based on manuscripts and early printed editions, philological studies to ascertain the exact meaning of difficult terms, seeing the text in its historical, sociological and literary settings and the use of material evidence to understand the physical aspects of an object discussed. Without the appreciation of these methodologies we often miss the main point of the text, and in some cases even err to the particular halachic implications.

He begins this latest volume with the following statement -- which is really picking a fight in a quiet way -- that it is well known that in the yeshiva world they mock the academic world saying they are concerned with what the Tanaim and Amoraim wore, whereas we are concerned with what they actually say. He says although it is certainly very important to know what they say, it is also very important to know what they wore. He shows a few examples that demonstrate this point that by not knowing what they wore, there were mistakes in understanding different areas of halakha such as in hilkhot tefilah and in hilkhot nidah.

Additionally, another example offered by Sperber, is from the laws of tying on Shabbat, where he ably demonstrates that if one has a full understanding of sailor knots, this knowledge allows one to fully understand the gemarah dealing with these issues. These examples, according to Sperber, show the importance in having this kind of knowledge. He than goes in to a lengthy discussion of what is known today as the scientific method of learning gemarah. Professor Sperber shows that this form scientific method of study is not new, rather, it dates to the times of rishonim. Further, he shows that there were great people such as the Sredei Eish who was involved with such methods and that if done properly this method is very important. In this section it is clear that even Professor Sperber is well aware of the great dangers of it and he does not know exactly how to go about mainstreaming it as opposed to the rest of this volume. A quote that Professor Sperber brings from R. Avraham E. Kaplan is appropriate here:

הוגי התלמוד שבארצות המערב מרבים להשתמש בסוד התיקון מתוך מציאות גירסאות. יש מהם שלא זזו מלחבבה, עד שבאו להעמיד את כל דרישתנ בתלמוד עליה בלבד. ויש גם בין חריפי המזרח ובקיאיו שסרו כאן קצת מן הדרך הנאות לצד שני שבדבר, הם הזניחו יותר מדאי את ענין הגירסות, לא כך היה דרך הקודש של רבותינו הראשונים ז"ל, הם הכניסו לתוך עמקי עיונם בגופי הלכות גם את הדיוק הגירסאי בלשון ההלכות, והרוצה בפירוש של אמת וצדק לצאת בדרך זו

From there he moves in to a whole discussion of the usage of manuscripts in general and specifically about the famous opinion of the Hazon Ish. Sperber's discussion is based on on Professor Speigel works Amudim b'Tolodot Sefer HaIvri, but he adds many excellent sources to those of Speigel. Specifically, he shows how many gedolim disagreed with the Hazon Ish as is evident from the haskamot and usage of the work Dikdukei Soferim - an entire work devoted to using manuscript evidence to ascertain the correct text of the Talmud. Sperber quotes the Minsker Godol who praises the sefer Dikdukei Soferim. To this I would add two more quotes from R. Meir Halpern's excellent book on R. Yerucham Leib Perlman, the Minsker Godol [R. Halpern taught the Minsker Godol's son]:

"כל אות ואות שבדברי חז"ל היתה חשובה ושקולה בעיניו לעשותת אותה יסוד ולהעמיד עליה בנין ולקחת ממנה ראיה לדין והלכה. ולכן היו חביבים בעיניו ספרי דקדוקי סופרים, וכמה וכמה פעמים היה מראה כי על פי שנוי קטן בנוסחא מתיישבים כמה דברי גדולי הראשונים, שהבאים אחריהם נתקשו בהם ולא ירדו לסוף דעתם ודחאום מהלכה". (הגדול ממינסק, עמ' 85)

Elsewhere he writes:

"כשעלתה בידו ליישב שיטת איזה מהראשונים על פי נוסחא ישנה שמצא בגירסת התלמוד, היה בעיניו כמוצא שלל רב ואין קץ לשמחתו. ולכן היו ספרי דקדוקי סופרים של הר"ר רפאל נטע רבינוביץ יקרים וחביבים לו". (שם עמ' 159)

Professor Sperber then continues with another topic, showing the need to know about different printings and printing mistakes. He shows how the knowledge of bibliography helps one come to a proper understanding of the topic of parashat Parah being d'oraitah -- and it is somewhat ironic that on this very page there is a mistake where Sperber writes the name of the Prei Chadash as R. Yechezkial, where it should really say R. Chizkiyahu]. Professor Sperber writes that the teshuvot on the topic of smoking today should take in account that all the earlier literature on this topic is from a time when they did not realize the dangers of smoking.

In the second section he has thirteen excellent examples (including pictures) demonstrating how using manuscripts helps one come to a proper understanding of the Yerushalmi. He gets in to a discussion of mesorah, nussach hatefilah. This later point leads him in his notes to deal with all the different printings of the siddur of R. Jacob Emden as much was added in over the years which was not written by R. Emden until the new beautiful edition by Eshkol was printed. [Even Eshkol edition, however, is not perfect and does not fully reflect the opinions of R. Emden, but it is much better than previous siddurim that claimed to reflect R. Emden's positions.] Sperber offers an example how censorship from the censors causes a wrong Pesak on topic of halakhot of lo sichanam. He has a small discussion about the Besamim Rosh, and a more lengthy discussion on how the proper dating of when the Rama died plays a role halakhically. He shows how a Kaarite explanation crept into many rishonim and how a mistake in Rabbeinu Yerucham without using manuscripts causes a wrong halakha. Finally, he has a lengthy discussion of the edited teshuvah of the Rama on yayin nessach. These are just some of the many topics one can find in this sefer.

The last two parts of the sefer are a continuation of his previous work Darkah Shel Halakha, including new information on topics discussed there on the feelings a posek must have to the people asking questions. (Sperber has a separate article on this topic, available here.) To illustrate the point he brings a beautiful story with R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, when after listening to a very complicated question, he told the person that he is sorry but that he can not answer him as he can not put himself in his shoes – it was towards the end of his life so he did not have enough strength.

The last part of Netivot Pesika are additional sources continuing from his Darkah Shel Halakha about how a posek should not to be overly machmir.

As always, Professor Sperber does not let us down with his breathtaking wide range of sources in his famous lengthy footnotes -- 283 notes in total -- quoting both from Hebrew and English sources. Of great interest to note is his tremendous Bikiut in all the seforim of R. Yaakov Chaim Sofer. This volume is also full of many nice stories and anecdotes to demonstrate his points. This book is much more organized than some of the other works of Professor Sperber, a complaint that many have voiced by some in the past. There are no tangents in tangents of tangents, as he sticks with each topic at hand.

One complaint I have with the book although he includes all the tools one needs to have today to render proper halakhic rulings, there is a glaring omission which I feel should be the few pages explaining how it is proper to learn Torah and that all the Torah sources are the first and most important things that one needs to master first. Only afterwards are these tools helpful and necessary, otherwise these tools alone will not help much.

When I finished reading Netivot Pesika I was stuck with the following feeling: A while ago when reading the excellent article of Dr. Shlomo Sprecher on mezizah b'peh I thought to myself that its lucky I am not a Rav, as this evidence is so hard to deal with. I never went to medical school and I have doctors saying each way and besides that I have the excellent documentation of Dr. Sprecher on this whole topic showing the whole historical development of this halakha convincing one how one can do it b'klei. This book also continues showing me how hard it is for one to become a Rav these days and anyone reading it thinking of pursuing such a career might change their minds.

My outcome after seeing all this unbelievable evidence would be that every rav has to make sure to carefully check up the sources he is using to reach his pesak and if it is related to issues of science or knowledge outside of learning to consult an expert of that particular field, but going to school would not teach one all of this as Sperber himself admits that how many languages could one learn already (pg 50) and still have time to learn Torah which is always supposed to be the main thing? There are many sources which show that one can learn other sciences, etc., and the great necessity of knowing them of reach proper conclusions in pesak.

One has to be aware of all these methods and maybe know how to check up manuscripts. But there is no way every topic that one would be able to research from scratch and suspect that everything up until now is a mistake. Besides, who has such libraries, even with the various computer programs, no one has all these manuscripts and early printings so readily available. The Rabannim would never get anywhere with issuing p'sakim. Rather, a rav has to be aware of the issues that Prof. Sperber raises and consult experts of each particular field, whether dealing with bankers or real estate agents to understand what the market is, to consult medical experts with regard to medical and fertility issues, electrical issues, scientists and the like.

Thus, if someone is dealing with questions of hilkhot Shabbat and electricity aside for having to master the extremely complicated topics of Grama he also has to understand electricity a bit besides for this he would have to understand how this particular product he is dealing with works exactly. Today many rabbanim are well aware of this so they are very careful to check into exactly understanding how products work before issuing a pesak to list one example.

One of the greatest poskim of the past century, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, was famous for how he consulted experts and tried to understand the exact facts before issuing a pesak. This is evident in all his writings on all of the modern day issues. One example: In recent years there has been much written on the bottle cap opening of shabbat -- it even has its own huge sefer (as virtually everything else does these days) on the topic! One of the rabbanim who has been involved with this topic for years is R. Moshe Yadler, author of Meor Hashabbat, where he has written on this topic and spent many hours speaking to many gedolim about it. When he was researching the topic he made sure to track down every type of bottle, he visited factories to see how bottles are made so that he would be able to understand exactly how it is made so he would be able to pasken properly. When he gives a shiur about this topic he comes with a bag full of all types of caps to demonstrate to the crowd the exact way it is made, etc. He told me once that he spoke to R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach about this many times at one point and requested R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach to put in writing his pesakim to which the latter did. But R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach's son told R. Yadler that his father sat for three days with a soda bottle in front of him the whole time he was writing the teshuvah and he kept on taking it on and off. Another of the many samples of this are the writings of R. J. David Bleich in his now five-volume Contemporary Halachic Problems, two-volume Jewish Bioethics and other works.

In conclusion I would like to quote a lengthy passage from one of my favorite books HaGodol m'Minsk that expresses an idea similar to Professor Sperber,on what a Rav should know – [I got to this book after hearing many times from my Rosh haYeshiva R. Zelig Epstein Shlita how great it is] I apologize for not translating it into English

"אף שם אל לבו להשתלם בידיעת עניני העולם. ובאשר ידע כי התמדתו הנפרזה בתורה היא הגורמת לחסרונו זה, ומפני גודל שקידתו כמעט שלא דבר עם איש מלבד לענות שאלה באיסור והיתר או למי שבא לדבר בדברי תורה, והיו הכל נמנעמים מלבוא אל ביתו בראותם כי למשא הם עליו והוא מדבר רק בעל כרחו כאלו כפאו שד, ובו ברגע שמפנים שכמם ללכת הוא שב ללמודו בקול רם כמשפטו באופן שניכר ומורגש היה להם שבביאתם הם מבטלים את הרב מתורתו. . . לכן עלה על רוחו להשלים חסרונו בכל האפשר, ויאמר להנהיג תורתו מנהג דרך ארץ. ועל פי רמז מאתו וגלוי דעתא דניחא ליה, היו באים אליו לפרקים שניים מחשובי העיר. . . הם היו באים אליו בעידנא דמיפגר מתלמודו, והיו משעשעים אותו בשיחותיהם. זה מספר מעסקים ומסחרים שונים ומבאר פרטיהם ודרכיהם, וזה מדבר על גוי ועל אדם, מספר קורותיו והרפתקאותיו ומבאר דעותיו והשקפותיו. וכיון שנפרץ הגדר מעט, היו באים לפעמים גם אחרים מאנשי העיר בשיחם ושיגם. והרב היה מתענין ושומע ומתכוון לקנות ידיעה בעיני התבל והמציאות. אף היה מתיר לעצמו לפעמים ללכת עם אחד מאלה לטייל בסביבות העיר. ומדי עברו לפני בנין שונה ודבר לא רגיל היה שואל לדעת טיבו ומהותו. כן נמשך הדבר כשלשה ירחים לערך. הרב אמנם עשה חיל בלמודיו אלה ויעבור בהם את רבותיו אלה, שהיה קורא להן בדרך הלצה רבנן דאגדתא, מאיר דעובדי ובמשך הזמן הקצר הזה התעשר בידיעות רבות... והנה נשמט מזכרונו דבור אחד מהראשונים המדברים בזה ולא ידע לפי שעה מקומו והוצרך לחפש אחריו תלה את הדבר בביטול תורה של הפסקות האלה בשיחות וטיולים, ויצר לו מאד ויקט בפניו. וישב לחדר למודו ולקביעותו כבראשונה, והבקורים והטיולים חדלו... בעת זקנו אמר לי פעם אחת כד הוה בדיחא דעתיה רב אמר שמונה עשר חדשים גדלתי אצל רועה בהמה, ורבנו הקודש לא נתן לו רשות להתיר בכורות, ואני לקחתי לקח שלשה חדשים אצל בעלי הבתים והעולם לא נתנו סמיכתם לי על ידיעתי עניני הארץ. בכל זאת אוכל לומר כי הידיעות האלה שקינתי לי אז, הן הן שעמדו לי בכל ימי חיי, מהם אני שואף ויונק בכל עת שבא מעשה לידי". (הגדול ממינסק עמ' 59-63).

Many of these points were demonstrated a bit in the convention and than journal Beis Havad previously discussed on the blog. Professor Sperber, however, goes ahead and demonstrates it much more clearly via many excellent examples to prove each point.

The book is available in the U.S. at Beigeleisen and in Israel at Girsa books and directly from the publisher, Rubin Mass. The SOY Seforim Sale at Yeshiva University, has online ordering available (minimum order of $100), and has Darkah Shel Halakha and Netivot Pesika.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Response to Dr. Shapiro: A Defense of the Torah Temimah

A Response to Dr. Shaprio: A Defense of the Torah Temimah

by: Y. Lander (of the Ishim v'Shitot blog)

I read with interest Dr. Shapiro’s recent post questioning the accuracy of R’ Baruch Epstein’s tale concerning his dialogue with the Netziv’s first wife, Rayna Batya. Dr. Shapiro points to several discrepancies in R. Epstein's account and based on those discrepancies posits that R’ Baruch deliberately contrived the story in order to call attention to the plight of women in his time. I would like, however, to present a more prosaic but equally plausible interpretation of the discrepancies that Dr. Shapiro notes.

Dr. Shapiro refers to the “the well-attested fact that Epstein was a plagiarizer” [1] and therefore one must be suspicious of anything he writes. That Epstein frequently fails to provide proper attribution when quoting other authors is certainly irrefutable but I am not at all certain that this was due to conscious plagiarism. I found that only two of Epstein’s works show significant signs of plagiarism - Torah Temimah and Tosefes Bracha[2] - whereas the chiddushei Torah cited in Mekor Baruch and Baruch She’Amar (Tefillah and Pirkei Avot) are original.

If Epstein was indeed a plagiarizer then from where did he get the sudden burst of originality that appears in the latter two works? Why would he plagiarize in Torah Temimah, stop for Mekor Baruch and then continue in Tosefes Bracha?

Further, Y. Bezek, in the article cited by Shapiro, points out that among the sources that R’ Epstein plagiarizes is Maimonides Sefer Hamitzvos. Is it really logical to assume that Epstein intentionally tried to pass of a Rambam as his own chiddush? Or that he could get away with plagiarizing a Gra in Mitnaggdic Vilna heavily influenced by the Gra and his teachings. [2a]

It seems far more logical to simply take Epstein’s words in his Introduction to the Torah Temimah at face value. There he writes, (roughly translated) “this work has taken me 15 years to write and has gone through many drafts. During the course of this time much information has gathered in my mind and although I have made an earnest attempt to provide proper attribution the reader is requested to judge me favorably in this.”

Given the large volume of information Epstein was dealing with and the limited time he had at his disposal [3] it is not surprising that he had not the ability to properly identify the sources for all the hundreds (if not thousands) of interpretations he provides in his commentary. I suspect that Tosefes Bracha is based on those notes that he did not incorporate into his Torah Temimah [4] and would therefore have the same defects as the former.

Shapiro also uses Mondshine’s study on R' Epstein. But, Mondshine brings very little proof to support his assertion that the story of the Aruch HaShulchan’s meetings with the Tzemach Tzedek was simply fabricated out of “whole cloth.” Rather, Mondshine points out that R’ S. Y. Zevin who received Semicha from the Aruch HaShulchan never mentioned any of these conversations. This omission, according to Mondshine is key, as R' Zevin was an adherent of Chabad it is only natural that the AS should have mentioned these meetings to him.

It is a pity that Mondshine didn’t read Zevin’s K’sav Horaah (printed in the new Kitvei Aruch Ha-Shulchan). If he had he would have seen that R’ Zevin never met the Aruch HaShulchan. It is written there that “I recognize that this is man is indeed a Talmud Chachamim based on the many letters I exchanged with him.” Those who have read the AS’s correspondence in the Kitvei will see that the AS rarely goes into any extra detail in his letters focusing solely on the question at hand.

But all this is unnecessary, R’ Y. L. Maimon (Fishman), a Talmud of the AS, wrote a series of books with various “Gedolim” stories entitled Sarei HaMeah. In the last volume (vol. 6 pg. 101) he mentions the conversations that “the Aruch Hashulchan himself told me that at the request of some of the (Chassidic) townspeople he went to visit the Tzemach Tsedek.” Their first conversation involved a discussion of the disagreements between Chassidim and Misnagdim…." [5]

Dr. Shapiro finds it impossible to believe that the Tzemach Tsedek should have said “Had it not been for the great dispute about Hasidism, and the Gaon’s strident opposition, the new movement might have led its followers out of the ranks of halakhic Judaism.” I beg to differ. The Tzemach Tsedek’s grandfather the Baal HaTanya held the Gra in great esteem [6] thus he might have tried to find a justification for the Gra’s opposition. Second, the Tzemach Tsedek waged an intense battle against the Maskilim in their attempts to “reform” traditional Jewish education [7]. To this end, the disagreements between the Chassidim and Mitnaggdim were ignored in order to more effectively battle this new greater menace [8]. It is not unlikely that in order to cement this new found alliance [8a] that the Tzeamach Tsedek would have made this kind of conciliatory remark to the Aruch Ha-Shulchan (brother-in-law of the Netsiv who was one of the most influential of the Mitnaggdim) in order to downplay the conflict between the Chassidim and Mitnaggdim

Dr. Shapiro introduces his post admitting that – “When Mekor Barukh was published there were still plenty of people alive who had known her and it would have been impossible to entirely fabricate her personality.” This being the case the report that- “It was her habit to sit by the oven in the kitchen—even in the summertime—next to a table piled high with seforim. These included a Tanach,(Mishnayos) Ein Yaacov, various midrashim, Menoras HaMaor, Kav HaYashar, Tzemach Dovid, Shevet Yehudah, and many other books of this nature.” [9]- must also have been true. This is an important point that is the cornerstone of the whole story.

Dr. Shapiro wonders how “the rebbetzin, sitting in Volozhin, would just so happen to come across this volume on her husband’s bookshelf.” Here is one possibility. We know that there were several large libraries (for example the Strashun Library in Vilna [10]) in the area and it is certainly possible that a copy of Mayin Ganim might have made its way to the intellectual center in Volozhin.

A similar example of a very rare Sephardi book circulating is mentioned in Mekor Baruch (pg. 1224). There he mentions a Maggid who recalled seeing an alchemical recipe in a rare book. The name of the book was Nifla’ot Elokim by Abraham Shalom Chai printed in Livorno. As Shapiro writes “There would have only been a few copies of this book in all of Lithuania.” But we see that it did circulate.

I agree with Shapiro that the TT obviously copied the letter from HaTzefirah. But all this proves is that at the time of the writing of Mekor Baruch he no longer had access to a Mayin Ganim and therefore had to copy from “HaTzefirah”. We do not have any proof that years before, as a student in Volozhin, he had no access to this book.

I also would like to point out that the TT refers to Mekor Baruch in manuscript [11] (Malki BaKodesh vol. 6 pg. 45) in his letter to Hirschenson. It is clear from the letter that the passage on Rayna Batya had already been written before he wrote this letter so he could not have “uses the language in his letter to Hirschensohn to create the following reply to Rayna Batya” as Shapiro writes.

As to the addition of the term “Ulai”, a commenter has correctly noted that the TT must have conflated the term “Efsher L’ Chalek” that appears in the letter with the term “Ullai”. Erroneous readings such as these are fairly common in TT as Kasher has shown in the addendum to Torah Shelemah v. 26.

We have then two possible ways of interpreting the various discrepancies that appear in R’ Epstein’s works. Either as Dr. Shapiro contends he engaged in fraudulent behavior, including intentional plagiarism, and fabricating historical accounts, or as I contend he simply failed to approach his work systematically, meaning he didn’t keep detailed notes, relied overly much on a faulty memory (See Psalms 19:13), and perhaps engaged in some artistic license in order to heighten the effect of his stories.

I leave it to the reader to decide which of the two is more plausible.

[1] On this see the sources cited in D. Rabinowitz – “Rayna Batya and other learned woman: A realuation Rabbi Barukh Halevi Epstein’s sources” Tradition – footnote 4.

[2] Many of the Chiddushei Torah cited in Tosefes Beracha have been previously attributed to the Gr”a. Compare “HaMeor HaGadol” – A collection of the Gra”s Torah from rare source by Yissocher Kreuser to almost any Parsha in Tosefes Bracha.

[2a] Note that in Tosefes Bracha (Gen. 31,1 Exodus 8,17) he writes that “after I thought of this chiddush a sefer of the Gra’s chiddushim (D’var Eliyahu) came out containing the same idea.” It seems that he genuinely thought that these were entirely his own ideas.

[3] He had a full time employment as a bookkeeper. See also M. M. Kasher’s description in a note to Torah Shelemah 26 (300-301)

[4] TB is for the most part a repetition of his Chiddushim in Mekor Baruch and an expansion of some of his writings in Torah Temimah. It gives the impression of a collection of ideas haphazardly “thrown together” rather then following any specific writing plan.

[5] See also the study of the AS's unique use of Kabbalah here. It is not unlikely that he was influenced in this by the Tsemach Tzedek.

[6] See Iggeret Kodesh pg 86 ff. In another place he refers to the Gra as a חד בדרא

[7] See “The Tzemech Tsedek and the Haskalah Movement” – available here.

[8] Mekor Baruch describes the enthusiasm with which the Tsemach Tsedek was greeted in his visit to Lithuania. Cf. the comments of Eliach in HaGaon Vol. 3 Pulmas HaChassidus. See also “B’Mechitasam Shel Gedolei Torah” – Y. Mark on R’ Chaim Soloveitchik for a further description of the Tsemach Tsedek’s actions at the conference.

[8a] In Mekor Baruch he writes that the Tsemach Tsedek begged the AS to make every effort to prevent the rise of Reform (pg. 1291).

[9] Taken from “My Uncle the Netziv” with the addition of one word.

[10] Although the Strashun Library was only officially opened to the public in 1892, (see here), the very existence of a private collection of so many rare seforim leaves open the possibility that some of these rare books may have circulated among the intellectual “elite” in Volozhin.

[11] Specifically he refers to a passage demonstrating that Archivolti was in fact a Talmudic scholar. Since this passage is part of the Rayna Batya story it is not unlikely that the whole passage had been completed before he sent the letter.

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